How to Control Citation Title Casing with Zotero

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Many styles call for you to capitalize English titles in “headline style.”1 Zotero can handle this capitalization for you. And it can even handle the different capitalization conventions of other languages as well.

Capitalization Style Overview

“Sentence-style” capitalization is, as its name suggests, the kind of capitalization you use in a sentence. You capitalize the first word, any proper names, and that’s pretty much it.2 You lower case everything else.

“Headline-style” capitalization is the capitalization style you learned for titles in elementary school. You capitalize the title’s

  • first and last words,
  • prepositions, if used adverbially or adjectivally, and
  • major words.3

And unless they appear first or last in the title, you don’t capitalize any

  • articles,
  • prepositions that aren’t used adverbially or adjectivally,
  • common conjunctions, or
  • words like “as” or parts of proper names that would be lowercased in a sentence.4

Capitalization in Zotero

Zotero can convert titles from sentence to headline style, but not the other way around. So, it’s generally best practice to enter your titles with sentence-style capitalization. Whether Zotero converts that sentence-style capitalization to headline-style will then depend on the style you’re using.

English Titles

For sources with English titles then, you’re pretty much done. If a citation style that calls for sentence-style title capitalization, Zotero will output the title capitalized exactly as you have it in your database.

Or you might be using a style that requires headline-style capitalization, like SBL, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, or Tyndale Bulletin. If so, Zotero will convert titles to headline-style capitalization without you having to continually look up its rules.

Non-English Titles

For sources with non-English titles, however, Zotero’s capitalization engine will run a bit amok. For instance, for a source with a French title, you should capitalize the title according to French conventions. So, you should have something like

Steeve Bélanger, “L’Épître aux Hébreux dans le contexte spéculatif sur la figure de Melchisédech durant la période du Second Temple de Jérusalem (IIe siècle avant notre ère – Ier siècle de notre ère),” ASEs 33.1 (2016): 31–77.

But Zotero will naturally give you

Steeve Bélanger, “L’Épître Aux Hébreux Dans Le Contexte Spéculatif Sur La Figure de Melchisédech Durant La Période Du Second Temple de Jérusalem (IIe Siècle Avant Notre Ère – Ier Siècle de Notre Ère),” ASEs 33.1 (2016): 31–77.

So, in cases like these, you need to turn off Zotero’s capitalization engine. You do that with the Language field for your source.

In the Language field, it’s best to enter the specific locale code for the source.5 For the Bélanger’s article, this might be “fr” (French in general) or “fr-CN” (Canadian French in particular).6

But really entering anything in the Language field besides “en”, “en-GB”, “en-US” or some other English designator (e.g., “Eng”, “English”) will stop Zotero from applying headline-style capitalization to the article title.

Conclusion

Headline-style capitalization rules aren’t always the easiest to remember and apply completely. But Zotero can handle this capitalization for you for sources with English titles. And it’s straightforward to turn off this capitalization when you cite non-English sources as well.

In either case (if you’ll forgive the pun 🙂), it’s work Zotero can perform while you concentrate on writing rather than managing capital letters.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), §8.158. 

  3. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

  4. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

  5. How Do I Prevent Title Casing of Non-English Titles in Bibliographies?,” Zotero, n.d. 

  6. Home: Citation Style Language Locales Wiki,” Github, n.d. 

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